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In today's society it is widely accepted that every child has the right to an education. Therefore, even children who show signs of challenging behaviour in schools should be entitled to the same attention from staff and the same standard of education as other children in the school.
However, there are some children who cannot be educated within the confines of a mainstream school for a variety of different reasons. Sodha and Margo (2010) have produced data that suggests ;
7.4% of children may have ADHD; 15% of 15 year olds have conduct problems; around 15% of children who start school at age five have troublesome behaviour that might make it difficult to learn; and research suggests that up to 5% of pupils display challenging behaviour at some stage in their school career.
In response to these problems Pupil Referral Units (PRU's) were set up. They provided a service which operates outside of mainstream schools and is designed to support children with challenging behaviour and address their behaviour in a more nurturing environment so as to meet their often very complex needs. Get the Right School, (2000-2011)
Challenging behaviour can be thought of as being a conflict between a child and the environment according to Loreman (2005). Loreman explains that these conflicts can occur when a child responds to his or her educational environment in ways that differ significantly from age-appropriate expectations and interfere with his or her own learning. This definition appears to suggest, however, that these conflicts are due to an inherent fault within the child that necessitates the removal of that child from a mainstream school. A more reasonable explanation is that these conflicts occur not only because of the child, but also due to the reaction of the professional or service in response to their behaviour, and it is this reaction, therefore, that determines whether the behaviour is challenging of not. (Clark, and Griffiths 2008). This suggests that there is a fundamental need that the service or member of staff, should possess a particular level of ability to enable them to understand and recognise the needs of the child, and it is this ability, therefore, that would determine whether the behaviour of the child was actually 'challenging' or not.
There is a whole range of reasons why young people may be required to attend a PRU. Cohen and Hughes, (1994) for example, suggest that these children fall into two distinct categories. Firstly, children who have recognised learning disabilities and particular emotional and behavioural problems, and secondly, those whose behaviour is so disruptive that the mainstream schools decide they cannot offer the appropriate care and help. However in many cases both categories can apply to a child even though the causative and associative factors may differ.
However there are a rising number of children who have none of these specific problems but are required to attend a PRU, children who just find it hard to adjust to mainstream schools and also pregnant girls. (DCSF 2008) It can be seen that there is a widely varying mix of children attending these centres.
Importance of a Pupil Referral Unit
The latest national statistics on permanent and fixed period exclusions from mainstream schools in England produced by the the Department for Education (2010), suggests that that there was an estimated 6,550 permanent exclusions from primary, mainstream secondary and all special schools in 2008/09. The DfE also stated that there were 12,800 young people attending Pupil Referral Units in 2010.
Additionally, permanent exclusion from a school has been linked to wider exclusion from society and in order to overcome this, the education system needs to work towards achieving a school which is inclusive for all young people by adopting a culture, pedagogy and curriculum which will support all learners who attend schools which are in areas that have been characterised by social exclusion. (Hayton, 1999)
It has also become apparent that there are increasingly mixed views within education as a whole, and even the professionals working within the Pupil Referral Units themselves, disagree on how to deal with young people that actually have more complex needs. Sonia Sodha (2010) makes the point that PRUs are being seen increasingly as "sin bins" or "dumping grounds" that schools use to remove problem children from their responsibility. Additionally, the resultant enforced association with anti-social peers, may be counterproductive and actually increase behavioural problems.
However, the benefits of a PRU may be perceived very differently from different people's perspectives. Management and employed staff working within PRUs have just as high a responsibility as any other teacher in mainstream schools, to enable the young people to achieve their full potential in their education and support them in preparing and furthering their personal understanding of what is expected of them within their working life after school. (Ofsted 2005)
The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools (2004) states that the number of PRU's has steadily increased. The report states that 25 out of 38 PRU's inspected in 2004/05, were `good` or `better`, providing effectively for the young people they serve. The report also stated that in almost all units, the pupil's behaviour and attitudes to learning were judged to have improved since the pupils joined them after moving from their previous schools.
It is therefore apparent that for the majority of its children, PRU's do provide an essential and relevant service that cannot be provided in a mainstream school. But is this service based on a `one size fits all` basis? For as we have seen many children have very different problems and needs and it is the sheer diversity of pupils for whom provision within a PRU must cater, that presents the main obstacle to the perceived success of this type of setting. (DCSF 2008).
Indeed, according to Gray, (2002), a number of PRU staff would argue that many young people are wrongly placed within PRUs and in actual fact should be placed in more suitable settings for their particular needs e.g. in day or residential special schools. They also argue that reintegration rates would be higher if these pupils within the provision, had less complex needs, and those with much more complex needs should be placed elsewhere for a more appropriate provision in relation to those needs. However, budgetary limitations may well prevent this type of provision emerging. Gray, (2002), explains that the costs per place for these kind of special school provisions are typically more expensive then PRUs probably being for greater than existing financial provision within the LEA.
Barriers to Learning
Exclusion and truancy are a fundamental challenge in all areas of education and the numbers of truanting and excluded children every day is in the tens of thousands which will have far reaching and serious implications on their education. Rendall, and Stuart (2005). For this reason Local Authorities are actively working together with schools to enable the process between the transfer of a young person from a mainstream school to PRU to be as quick as possible, as well as ensuring they follow all the correct procedures. However the period between pupils being referred to a PRU and actually beginning their time there can often be quite a lengthy period and result in a significant amount of education time being lost. DCSF (2008)
Ofsted,( 2007), identified particular challenges that a large variety of different PRU'S were now facing, when providing children and young people with a good education. They cited a number of factors, such as pupils with diverse needs and who are of differing age groups, and many pupils arrive with no planning or preparation for those special needs. Staffing issues were also highlighted regarding the limited number of specialist staff who could broaden the curriculum. They also state the difficulties PRU's faced regarding the reintegrating pupils back into mainstream schools.
Poor accommodation is also a major factor which can seriously limit the scope of the curriculum available to be taught due to inadequate space. This is particularly relevant in relation to physical education, ICT design and technology, art and music. Therefore Local Authorities have to take this on board when managing education building assets by surveying buildings regularly and prioritising building work including Pupil Referral Units in their plans. DCSF (2008)
Longman, and Agar, (1999), also make reference to similar barriers of learning within PRU's, and suggested that many PRU's were physically very small ,with limited staff and facilities. This they suggested, made the provision of expertise and the wide range of practical apparatus that was essential for the success of the PRU, very problematical.
The success of PRU's is essentially down to the way they respond to challenges set and the help and support they receive from their Local Authorities (LA's). The LA`s therefore have a specific responsibility in relation to these problems and are required to intervene and take action particularly regarding resources and building issues. (Ofsted, 2007).
The Government's policy which is set out under The Children's Act 2004 aims to improve the outcomes for all children and young people. However many children and young people who attend PRU`s are vulnerable or disadvantaged, and therefore may face more barriers to learning compared to other young people and are at much higher risk of failure as a result. (Department for Education and Skills, 2007),
PRU`s and Reintegration into Mainstream Education
Hayward, (2006), also makes the point that in theory temporary or part time placements in pupil referral unit's are available. However, as they are rapidly filling up this is not actually the case, and many young people are continuing their stay into long term placements, which is a real cause for concern as there is no availability for the young people who need short term placements within them. Therefore, it would appear on this evidence that PRUs are in actual fact, not fulfilling their purpose of supporting young people, specifically within the process of reintegrating children and young people back into mainstream schools.
Within the actual process of reintegration, there are a large number of different supporting roles designed to help support the pupils that attend, by enabling them receive a good education and help them to achieve their full potential with regard to their social and emotional development during their time in the setting. Kyriacou, (2003), discusses a number of studies that have taken place over the years which
"highlight the important role that needs to be played by inter agency cooperation both in supporting pupils and schools when a pupil is at risk of exclusion and in helping to support a pupil returning to school after a fixed period exclusion or moving to a new school after a permanent exclusion."
One particular study carried out by Normington and Kyriacou (1999) emphasises the importance of communication between agencies. Within this study a number of professionals, such as education psychologists, education welfare officers and teachers to name but a few, were interviewed and asked to focus on the interdisciplinary work that follows permanent exclusions for a sample of pupils who were based at a pupil referral unit. The overall outcome from all professionals involved, suggested that the interagency cooperation is 'often hampered by heavy case loads and by difficulties in the different agencies keeping each other fully informed'. Normington and Kyriacou (1999) cited in Kyriacou, (2003).
The professionals taking part in the study also mentioned how improved resources were key, to becoming more successful in this area of interagency cooperation.
While the need for a PRU is becoming more essential, the findings of Ofsted (2007), reflect a very disappointing situation, with many Pupil Referral Units described as offering an uninspiring curriculum and with a lack of clear vision. The report stated these points as the reason for the failure to reduce days lost as a result of exclusion and failure to improve pupil's attendance. It is therefore apparent that while many Pupil Referral Units are an essential struggling to fulfil their responsibilities, particularly in reintegrating young people back into mainstream education. It should be remembered that this was the purpose they were specifically set up to fulfil.
All the PRUs made sure personal and social development was
emphasised: it was integrated into all lessons and activities, as well as being taught
well at discrete times. The PRUs generally monitored personal development well but
academic progress less so.
I am currently in the process of researching one particular Pupil Referral Unit, which I attended as part of my placement, and I am particularly interested to listen to the views of both the staff and students of this PRU and focus on what they perceive as the benefits, if any, of attending the PRU
A number of the staff at this PRU have expressed their opinion that many of these children would benefit more from being referred to a separate provision such as a special school, which focuses on their particular needs in more depth.
The DCSF report (2008) maintains that due to the challenges posed by these particular children it is important that PRU`s are constantly assessing their procedures and instigating new systems and initiatives to support the ever changing demands presented by the young people in their provision. For example the PRU where I have been on placement is currently rolling out the practice of Restorative Justice.
Wright (1999 cited in Hopkins, 2004) states that restorative justice is not about stating who is to blame and what the punishment will be as a result of a person's harmful actions, but to explore deeper into what happened and being able to put more time into repairing harm done to relationships.
The process involves asking questions such as: Who has been affected by what happened? How can we put right the harm? What have we learnt from what has happened and how to make different choices next time? In basic terms restorative justice is a new approach for dealing with situations in a more effective and positive light, enabling young people to move forward in their relationships and learn from what they have done. Wright, (1999), cited in Hopkins, B, (2004).